The Necklace and Story of An Hour; A Comparison Megan Ford ENG125 Instructor Reljic August 19, 2012 At first glance, Chopin’s Story of an Hour (1894) and de Maupassant’s The Necklace (1884), appear to have very little in common. Chopin’s story, as displayed in its title is quite short; while in comparison, de Maupassant tells a much more detailed account of the beleaguered Loisel’s, who must learn from the self-centred Madam Loisel. With de Maupassant’s depiction of his female protagonist as selfish and ungrateful; it is difficult to fathom Chopin, known for her active role in describing woman’s oppression in the nineteenth century.
Interestingly, Chopin, a realist, did consider de Maupassant to be one of her largest influences. (Powell & Blakely, 2001). By analyzing both stories’ form, content and style, we can see how the authors developed themes of illusion, deception and obligation to marriage, to pinpoint the suffering of women who society renders mute. Beginning with the form, although both are short stories, there is clearly a variance in length, yet each works to add to the meaning of the story. The Story of an Hour (Chopin, K. 894), is ingeniously delivered to spell out the space of an hour, works in this form because it is the story of an epiphany. Louise’s revelation of impending freedom is fleeting, enough though, that it becomes the centre piece of the story. Also, there is a short turn around between her weeping “with sudden, wild abandonment” (Chopin, K. 1894), her realization of freedom, and snap ending of her husband returning unscathed, providing the reader with a sharp insight. Yet, Chopin does not stop there, because immediately following Brently’s arrival, Louise dies, having never realized her true independence.
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In this end, Chopin’s form provides the reader with the fleeting moment women have for independence, merely a daydream before their husband comes home. On the other hand, de Maupassant takes us on a much slower journey in order to show Madame Loisel’s slow fall from grace. De Maupassant could not possibly have achieved the same effect in telling the story of the Necklace (1884) as quickly as Chopin. First, of course, his story takes much longer than an hour. Secondly, and more importantly, the form of his story is set up in order for us to witness the agony that endures after the necklace is lost.
For 1214 words, we hear of Mathilde dreading her lot in life, envying others, and turning her nose up at things offered to her, such as homemade soup and flowers, by her husband. After the loss of the necklace, de Maupassant describes the gruelling life of the Loisels as they work to purchase the diamonds they believed were owed to Madame Forrestier. Where form compares favourably between Story of an Hour (1894) and the Necklace (1884), becomes clear here. Just as Louise’s epiphany was fleeting, so was Mathildes.
The passage describing Mathilde, dancing in her glory, below, is described in a mere fifty-five words of the story. “She danced madly, ecstatically, drunk with pleasure, with no thought for anything, in the triumph of her beauty, in the pride of her success, in a cloud of happiness made up of this universal homage and admiration, of the desires she had aroused, of the completeness of a victory so dear to her feminine heart” (de Maupassant, G. 1884). de Maupassant uses the “snap” ending as well, turning readers perception around to make his point.
This is where the length of his piece becomes vital to the success of his story as he, with one line, makes his case known – “Oh, my poor Mathilde! But mine was imitation. It was worth at the very most five hundred francs” (de Maupassant, G. 1884)! . . .As readers, like the Loisels, have fallen into the trap of the Necklace, having been through that extended journey, only to discover it was all for naught. Of course, despite the author soliciting no judgment throughout the text, we are unhappy with Mathilde. There is much discussion to be had about content and style, and invariably the two intermingle to create form.
In discussing content, like all great authors, Chopin use symbols and metaphor to allow us to look within the subtext of their works. And many of these symbols and metaphors work to build upon their style, heavily composed of irony. As these are discussed, the themes of the obligations of women in marriage and illusions of independence, will come forward. Chopin’s short work is masterfully interspersed with clues to the subtext of her work. One set of metaphors which should be more often discussed is the freedom with which Brently Mallard is able to enjoy.
The text discusses both the train and the telegram, avenues to communicate with outside worlds. It is worth noting that while these things are readily available to Brently, they are not to Mrs. Mallard. Chopin uses common household features as a metaphor for Mrs. Mallard’s exclusion from the outside world. When she first learns of Brently’s death, Louise looks out an open window into an open square. Next, Chopin chooses to use treetops a quiver with new spring life as the first thing Louise sees prior to having her revelation, with a description of the delicious breath of rain in the air.
Spring, of course is when things grow anew, and we know that water, as a a symbol cleanses ill pasts. This type of rich symbolism, returning to form, helped Chopin to make her story into simply “an hour”. As well, Chopin, makes use of parting clouds to provide Louise a blue sky, again, freedom like the open window. Other barriers that Chopin uses to illustrate deeper meaning within the house are the bathroom door where Louise is forced to contain herself in order to exhibit her true feelings. Despite her exuberant exultation, Louise is forced to feign grief to her sister, Josephine.
Ironically, Josephine, the only likely candidate to tell her of her husband’s death, cannot be privy to Louise’s true feelings, because as in being cooped into the bathroom, Louise, as woman in 1884, would be unable to profess her longing for independence, even to one as close as her sister. One of the most telling metaphors Chopin uses is the return of Brently, whose presence is announced by the turn of a latch key from the outside. This image, magnified by the sound it generates, wonderfully articulates what Chopin highlights is Louise’s dilemma.
Not only is she locked into a domestic arrangement that she is not fully comfortable with, she is locked in from the outside, with Brently holding the key. This metaphor is perhaps one of the most telling within Chopin’s tale. When we look at de Maupassant’s The Necklace (1884), in comparison, we find that he does not work with as many key images, instead using his tale and characters to tell his story. However, that does not mean that there are not any. de Maupassant’s use of metaphor is strong and central to the point of the story.
Two prominent and contrasting images that de Maupassant uses are flowers and diamonds, although he does use the case of the necklace as a masterful metaphor. When Monsieur Loisel offers Mathilde flowers, she turns them down immediately. Yet, flowers are instruments of universal beauty. Grown in cycles, they live their lives blossoming in the spring, naturally exhibiting their beauty and slowly fading away. Like Mathilde, flowers are simply beautiful. Diamonds on the other hand, are constructed. , and heavily fabricated to achieve their desired look.
One might imagine natural beauty, versus someone who has undergone numerous botox and treatments of plastic surgery to see perhaps what Mathilde had been missing. Also, as de Maupassant exemplifies with his brilliant ending, diamonds can be easily replicated. Perhaps the strongest metaphor de Maupassant offers is the case wherein the diamond resided. “Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin case, a superb diamond necklace; her heart began to beat covetously. Her hands trembled as she lifted it.
She fastened it round her neck, upon her high dress, and remained in ecstasy at sight of herself” (de Maupassant, G. 1884). First, this passage is almost an allusion to the infamous “taboo object”, whereupon the villain finally gains the object which will be his ultimate downfall. As a metaphor, de Maupassant’s language encloses the necklace in a black, satin case, which if we were to imagine other cases that bear that description, may almost bring to mind a coffin. Then, we have Mathilde strapping it around her neck, readying the insightful reader, for such a ain for Mathilde, is undoubtedly an atrocity of sorts. When she tells Forrestier her initial reason for not returning it, is because the clasp was broken.. Yet, the clasp was not broken and the diamond will weigh heavy upon her for the rest of her life. Chopin and de Maupassant use similar pronouns in making their points known, by switching their characters’ titles upon a revelation. In “the Story of an Hour”, Chopin refers to Louise Mallard as Mrs. Mallard up until such time as she is informed of her husband’s death.
Then, immediately she is called Louise – independent of the name imposed of her marriage. Conversely, Mathilde is described by her first name, envying and seeking a better life, until the necklace is lost. Then, forced to endure hard labor befitting her class, does de Maupassant stamp her with the name she has been assigned: Madame Loisel. Chopin and de Maupassant both assign neutral roles to Mathilde and Louise’s husbands. Both are passive observers, with de Maupassant going so far as to assign the street name where the Loisels live, rue de Martyre, or Street of Martyrs.
Despite Mr. Mallard merely being a shocked observer to his wife’s death, Monsieur Loisel is given a much more sympathetic role, playing the martyr for his wife’s wants. He forfeits a gun he had worked hard for to buy his wife a dress, spends night looking for the necklace and in-debts himself for thousands of francs in order to pay for Mathilde’s fifty words worth of freedom. In contrast, Mathilde and Louise are portrayed much differently in the two stories, and each is set up to receive much different judgment from their stories’ readers.
Of course, we are sympathetic to Louise, who having glimpsed freedom from having her will bent, dies knowing that she had been under an illusion. To add insult to injury, she is diagnosed as having died from “the joy that kills” from a doctor, male no less, further burying her inner desires. Mathilde, on the other hand is portrayed as envious. When being offered dinner of scotch broth, she pictures a more magnificent fare. When her husband suggests flowers she turns them away with disgust. Even when she has Madame Forrestier’s collection in front of her, she is finicky, asking to be shown something more to her liking.
Being presented with such a character, so focused on herself that she would, without apparent remorse, put her amicable husband through a lifetime of indentured servitude, readers are apt to despise her as a selfish and eager to obtain lifer’s pleasures for nothing. To return to the subject of form for a moment, we can start to unravel why, when one looks deeper into the writing, that de Maupassant and Chopin write about the same women, trapped in a world which stifles them and offers them little choices.
And in the process, attempting to find some sympathy for Mathilde. Chopin tells us from the beginning that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a great heart trouble, we as readers know from the ending that this was Chopin’s attempt at foreshadowing what was to come. Perhaps, she may have had some type of physical heart malady, but witnessing her brief epiphany, we also know that her more urgent heart trouble was her need to be free from the constraints of domestic married life, something that was impossible in 1884, without much turbulence.
In fact, Chopin, would have had the story end differently if society would have allowed it. “And yet, to make her story publishable, Kate Chopin had to disguise reality. She had to have her heroine die. A story in which an unhappy wife is suddenly widowed, becomes rich, and lives happily ever after — Eliza O’Flaherty’s story — would have been much too radical, far too threatening, in the 1890s. There were limits to what editors would publish, and what audiences would accept” (Toth, 1999, p. 5). Looking deeper we can see, despite their differing styles, Maupassant and Chopin tell a similar tale through the eyes of the women they write about; two women trapped in the illusion that one day they may escape a society that oppresses them because they are women. Chopin, then tells us from the very beginning what to expect, and allows us as the readers to discover the true meaning of her original sentence, as we watch Louise undergo her epiphany, before learning it was not to be.
On the same level, and worth noting, de Maupassant does the exact same thing. While this is a large quote, it is worth re-reading, for in this passage does de Maupassant do exactly the same thing: “She was one of those pretty and charming girls born, as though fate had blundered over her, into a family of artisans. She had no marriage portion, no expectations, no means of getting known, understood, loved, and wedded by a man of wealth and distinction; and she let herself be married off to a little clerk in the Ministry of Education.
Her tastes were simple because she had never been able to afford any other, but she was as unhappy as though she had married beneath her; for women have no caste or class, their beauty, grace, and charm serving them for birth or family, their natural delicacy, their instinctive elegance, their nimbleness of wit, are their only mark of rank, and put the slum girl on a level with the highest lady in the land” (de Maupassant, G. 1884). In the passage above, Madame Loisel’s circumstances are described. Neither story, told in an objective, third person omniscient narrative offer any judgement.
They simply relay the stories as they evolve, leading the reader to draw their own conclusion. We know that Loisel wanted to wear expensive things, and to be seen with the most notorious of socialites, yet the only way she can feel comfortable is to borrow something from her wealthy friend, in order to feel as if she fulfilled that dream. Some may take this story as a fable of sorts, a reverse telling of Cinderella in which the protagonist simply does not do what she must to attain her Prince Charming. This is where Chopin and de Maupassant agree.
Again, I would refer to the above passage describing Mathilde’s circumstances before they begin pontificating on the merits of “the american dream”. We can agree that Mathilde ended up working hard her entire life, alongside her devoted husband’s unwavering support to pay for the diamond she thought she had lost. But for what.. One night of feeling above her chosen place in life? To that end, if we are to say that Mathilde should have simply accepted her place in life, enjoyed the scotch broth that her husband provided and appily welcomed her role as a married woman, despite its limitations, then we should also be willing to state the same for Louise Mallard. As much as Chopin used a short form, with a bounty of symbolism to help us sympathize with the plight of women trapped in their place in society, de Maupassant took us through the life of Mathilde, someone who had just as few options, and like Louise Mallard, was only able to catch a glimpse of freedom. References: Chopin, K. (1894) The Story of an Hour Retrieved from: https://content. shford. edu/books/AUENG125. 10. 2/sections/h2. 1#h2. 1 de Maupassant, G. (1884). The Necklace Retrieved from: https://content. ashford. edu/books/AUENG125. 10. 2/sections/sec8. 2#a16 Knight, D. D. (1997). Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Retrieved from: http://muse. jhu. edu/journals/resources_for_american_literary_study/. html Pizer, D. (1984). Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth-Century American Literature.
Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Retrieved from: http://public. wsu. edu/~campbelld/amlit/natural. htm Powell, J. , & Blakely, D. W. (2001). Biographical Dictionary of Literary Influences: The Nineteenth Century, 1800-1914. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Retrieved from: http://philo. swu. bg/biblioteka/26-dictionary-of-literary-influences/0 Toth, E. (1999). Unveiling Kate Chopin. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. Retrieved from: http://www. katechopin. org/biography. shtml
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